The world is using up more and more resources and global recycling is falling. That's the grim takeaway from a new report by the Circle Economy think tank, which found that the world used up more than 110 billion tons, or 100.6 billion metric tons, of natural resources, as Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.
The Dutch group's Circularity Gap Report 2020 found that the world's economies are now only 8.6 percent circular. That means, out of all the minerals, biomass, fossil fuels and metals that enter the world's economy, only 8.6 percent are reused. That number is a drop from 9.1 percent when the group first started its Circularity Gap Report in 2018, as Envirotec Magazine reported.
"No country is meeting the basic needs of its citizens while also operating within the physical boundaries of our planet," said Marc de Wit, a director at the non-profit Circle Economy and lead author of the report, as AFP reported.
In another sobering finding that points to activity headed the wrong way, the report also found that consumption has risen by more than 8 percent.
The report, which was released at the Davos World Economic Forum, showed that, on average, every single person on the planet uses more than 13 metric tons of materials. Of course, people in wealthy, industrialized nations use many more resources than the average person in a third-world or developing country. Wealthy nations, the authors note, consume 10 times more resources per person than in the developing world, and produce far more waste, as AFP reported.
A recent Oxfam report, for example, found that the average British citizen emits more greenhouse gasses in two weeks than the average citizen of seven different African nations emits in an entire year.
"We risk global disaster if we continue to treat the world's resources as if they are limitless," said Harald Friedl, the chief executive of Circle Economy, as The Guardian reported. "Governments must urgently adopt circular economy solutions if we want to achieve a high quality of life for close to 10bn people by mid-century without destabilizing critical planetary processes."
"We are still fuelling our growth in population and affluence by the extraction of virgin materials. We can't do this indefinitely – our hunger for virgin material needs to be halted," De Wit said.
The data that Circular Economy studied is actually from 2017, which is the most recent year that complete data was available. The report found that 15 percent of the raw materials used is emitted as warming greenhouse gases and nearly one-fourth becomes pollution, like plastic clogging waterways. About one-third goes to landfills and spoil-heaps, while only a very small amount, just 8.6 percent, is recycled, as The Guardian reported.
In terms of how the materials are used, half of the extracted resources were sand, clay, gravel and cement for building, along with the other minerals that produce fertilizer. Coal, oil and gas make up 15 percent and metal ores were 10 percent. Plants and trees were used for food and fuel made up the final 25 percent. Only about one-third of materials remain in use after one year, such as buildings and vehicles, as The Guardian reported.
While some countries have pledged to boost recycling and move towards a circular economy, the report sees a negative trend. It estimated that global use of natural resources will balloon to 170-184 metric tons by mid-century, as the AFP reported.
Rich countries must "take responsibility for the impact of their imports and exports," the report said, noting that much of what they consume comes from less developed nations, while much of their waste is exported, as the AFP reported.
"This report sparks an alarm for all governments," said Carolina Schmidt, Chile's environment minister, as The Guardian reported. "We need to deploy all the policies to really catalyze this transformation [to a circular economy]."
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.